On Nov. 6, Massachusetts voters will get to weigh in on the so-called Death With Dignity ballot question: whether physician-assisted suicide should be made legal for people with terminal illness. If voters approve, then Massachusetts would become the third state in the U.S. after Oregon and Washington to allow assisted suicide.
If passed, the new law would allow patients who doctors say they have six months or less to live to be prescribed lethal doses of medication.
While 34 states prohibit suicide outright, Massachusetts and six other states ban it through common law.
In 2009, Boston-based Dignity2012 and Al Lipkind, a terminally ill man from Stoughton, Massachusetts, filed a ballot petition in an attempt to get a similar bill passed in the legislature, but lawmakers didn't take action and Lipkind died of stomach cancer that year, according to CBS Boston.
Supporters of assisted suicide, mainly patients' rights groups, argue that the bill has effective safety measures, like prohibiting physicians from prescribing lethal prescriptions to depressed patients.
A medical ethicist at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine Dr. Marcia Angell supports the bill, arguing that dying patients should have the legal right to kill themselves.
She told NPR that she took the stance party because her father shot himself to death in 1988 when he was in severe pain from prostate cancer.
"He took a pistol from his bedside table, where he had kept it all of my life. He took it out that night and he shot himself and died instantly," Angell told NPR.
Angell believes that her father wouldn't have resorted to such a brutal suicide if he could have had fatal medication by his bedside.
"If it was something that was legal and accepted, I think he would have lived longer and I think it would have been much easier for the family," Angell said.
However, opponents of the bill, such as religious, medical and disability rights groups are arguing that the assisted suicide is open to manipulation and relies on diagnoses that may be wrong.
John Kelly, the leader of Second Thoughts, an organization of people with disabilities who disagree with legalizing assisted suicide, told WBUR that one of the reasons he opposes the bill is because passing it might suggest that the lives of people with illnesses or disabilities are not worthwhile.
"If you go see a doctor and that doctor starts talking about assisted suicide, that might feel like a radical betrayal," Kelly said, according to WBUR. "I know it would for me."
Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, which also owns and publishes the New England Journal, said in a statement that he opposes the bill "based on the idea that physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer," adding that not only is predicting a person's end of life within six months difficult, it can also be inaccurate.